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Treliving, Berube are on the same page when it comes to ‘accountability’

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Hobson
1 month ago
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For better or for worse, Brad Treliving and Craig Berube are on the same page when it comes to how they want the Toronto Maple Leafs to look.
This may seem like a prerequisite for running a hockey team, but the Leafs have had to work without that advantage a couple of times in the Auston Matthews era. It became clear almost instantly after Kyle Dubas was named general manager that his vision of the team didn’t align with Mike Babcock, with the two only working together for a little over a year. It popped up this season, as well. After years of having top-end talent supported by low-event, strong defensive players with good possession numbers, Sheldon Keefe had to figure out how to construct a roster with a different style of supporting cast from Treliving.
When Treliving took over as general manager last offseason and signed players to the effect of Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi in free agency, he emphasized the need for players who bring “snot” and “piss and vinegar” to the team, and cited the importance of having players who can elevate their game in the playoffs. He alluded to this again in the team’s end-of-season press conference, discussing how the team needed to figure out a way to do the “unsexy” things better. That’s not to say Keefe wasn’t aware of those issues or that he was hopeless when it came to fixing them, but in the end, a team will usually operate better when the general manager has his own, hand-picked head coach, and that’s why Berube will be behind the bench next season.
It’s completely fair that Treliving didn’t want to walk onto the job last summer, take a coach who clearly had the respect of his players, and axe him without at least spending a season working with him and seeing what kind of compatibility there was. Lots of people pointed to the fact that he signed Keefe to an extension, but to give your new bench boss a couple of years of cushion and eliminate any possible contract drama is a smart play. By all accounts, there are no hard feelings from either side; that’s how the business sometimes goes. They gave it one more shot, it didn’t work out, and with a year under Treliving’s belt along with added knowledge of his new team and a full season of watching them night in and night out, he’s earned the right to use one of his bullets.
So, what does a Craig Berube hockey team look like? Plain and simple, something like this.
The issue of being held to the perimeters of the ice has long plagued the Leafs in the playoffs. It shines through on their power play, and although they did improve in the area of scoring goals in the dirty areas this season, it wasn’t brought on a consistent enough basis.
The North-South style of hockey plays into this. Some might point at the “heavy” part of this quote and raise concerns over how slow of a team the Leafs were this year. While true, part of that is the style you play. Playing heavy doesn’t mean loading your team up with a bunch of players who weigh over 200 pounds. It means finishing your checks, wearing out your opponent and making it tougher for them to do their job, and finding a way to score those unsexy goals. Even though they didn’t advance part the first round this season, they improved in those categories, and adding someone like Berube will only help in that department.
The on-ice product isn’t the only thing they agree on. There was a real emphasis on the word “accountability” throughout the media availability. Even in the speculation around Berube’s first couple of days in Toronto, the number one talking point was his ability to hold players accountable, and how there wouldn’t be any country club atmosphere with him behind the bench. All of this rings true, but he stressed that accountability is more than just telling your star players that they suck when they’re having a bad game.
“Well, to hold players accountable, and for players to understand the accountability, you have to form a partnership.” Berube said. “I think it starts in the summertime. Getting to know these players, and them getting to understand what I’m all about, how I’m gonna coach, how I’m gonna coach each individual and the team. Then, when the time comes to hold the player accountable for, it could be ice time or whatever the situation is, they understand it more. Communication is huge. I think one of my strengths is I’m a great communicator with my players, they know where I stand. I’m gonna tell them if they’re playing well, I’m gonna tell them if they’re not playing well. I’m going to tell them things they need to improve upon. Accountability is accepted more by your players when you have that partnership.”
Brad Treliving mentioned at the beginning of the press conference that the team had built a profile on what they wanted their coach to look like. When asked about what that profile looked like, he echoed many of the same things Berube said.
“We all talk about accountability. The ability to hold people accountable, push people. We’re all watching what’s being played right now, it’s real difficult. To have success at this time of the year is very difficult and you’ve gotta be able to push people into uncomfortable positions. To me, you have to connect with people first. There has to be a partnership, a relationship, and a trust.”
These quotes struck me particularly hard in watching the press conference. One of the main talking points when Keefe took over for Babcock in 2019 was the transition from “hard ass” to “player’s coach”. By the end of Babcock’s tenure, you could just tell in watching the Leafs play that they had tuned him out. Some might look at this as an indictment on the players, but Babcock didn’t have a picture-perfect record when it came to handling his players.
He posted a list in the dressing room from a private conversation between him and Mitch Marner after he asked the latter to rank the hardest-working players on the team. He scratched Justin Holl for 71 games in 2018-19. He left former Leafs defenceman Frankie Corrado scratched for nearly an entire season for the same inexplicable reasons early in his tenure. He had a head coaching gig lined up with the Columbus Blue Jackets heading into the 2023-24 season that didn’t even make it out of the summer after it was revealed he was asking to see players’ phones so he could determine the type of person they were based on their photo galleries.
The common denominator here is that all of these instances happened without any real sense of communication. Berube agrees that players need to hear about it when they’re not playing well, whether that’s through a conversation or a benching. But if you’re playing for him and he takes issue with anything you’re doing, you’ll know what it is, and you’ll hear it directly from him. That’s the quality that lacked the last time the Leafs went the “hard-ass” route, and while Keefe seemed to ace the communication side of things as a head coach, he isn’t as much of a hard-ass as Berube is.
A healthy mix of both was long overdue from a Leafs head coach, and with it comes a vision shared by the general manager and head coach. The last time they had this was with Dubas in the GM chair and Keefe behind the bench. It didn’t work that time, but with Matthews locked up for the next four years and Nylander for the next eight, Treliving and Berube have an extended window to prove that their way is the right way. We’ll see what they make of it.

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